Omni-Visibilis cover detail by Matthieu Bonhomme
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Omni-Visibilis

How could I pass up a book written by Lewis Trondheim and drawn by Mathieu Bonhomme?

This is a weird one with a high concept. It’s science fiction, and it’s also comedy.

It’s a 160-page “Twilight Zone” episode, basically, and it’s pretty good.

See The Credits Through My Eyes

Omni-Visibilis cover by Matthieu Bonhomme
Original Title: “Omni-Visibilis”
Writer: Lewis Trondheim
Artist: Matthieu Bonhomme
Colors: Hubert
Translator: Tom Imber
Letterers: Cromatik Ltd.
Published by: Dupuis
Number of Pages: 160
Original Publication: 2010

What’s Going On?

Passengers on the train notice the man whose eyes they can see through.

Herve Boileau wakes up one morning and suddenly the whole world can see what he sees whenever they close their eyes. They hear what he hears. They feel what he feels.

Needless to say, this makes him a person of interest to the entire world that’s stuck living with him in their brains every time they blink, including when they sleep.

By page 29, he’s on the run and will be for the rest of the book. First, he tries to hide. He tries to stay anonymous, but when everything you hear and see is replicated millions of times, that’s rather difficult. His efforts — with the help of some helpless friends — are comedically bad. You feel for the guy, but you also laugh at him just a little bit.

He tries to run away from the people prying through his eyes.

So he tries to keep his eyes closed as much as possible. He tries to speak in code that only his friends would get. He tries to speak loudly to drown out any information that he might otherwise hear, so the rest of the world doesn’t hear it, either.

But it’s just not enough.

That’s when the bad guys show up, random strangers want to use him to pass along messages, and the chase takes some pretty odd turns. Picture the Beatles running from their fans, but more dangerous.

Can Herve sell out fast enough to protect himself, or will the chasing crowds prove his undoing?

Bonhomme Art

Herve is running from everyone, down the stairs and out the door

Bonhomme’s art is always changing. It morphs for the project he’s working on. “Esteban” has one look. His two Lucky Luke books have another, with some very deep coloring integration. (The colors aren’t added to the art. They’re a part of the art.) “Charlotte” stays pretty close to “Esteban,” but is also a work much later in his career. His style has evolved, including his use of colors. You can see the experience and skills having grown on the page.

“Omni-Visibilis” is from 2010, so it was made at around the same time he was drawing “Esteban.” Yet, it looks totally different. He draws a wide array of people, most of whom aren’t terribly attractive. Now, this could be a commentary on the lead character being in IT, so of course he’s an awkward ugly dude.

It goes beyond just that group. It’s everyone in this book. Bonhomme draws believable people, because they’re not muscular and statuesque and ready for their closeup. The people on the street that he runs into, in particular, run the gamut in age and clothes. Even his girlfriend, who could easily be drawn to be the most ridiculously beautiful person in the book, is drawn with a gap tooth and baggy clothes.

Bonhomme can draw a variety of people

This isn’t one of those comics where you cut to the girlfriend just as she happens to be getting into the shower or anything obvious like that. The book just feels more real and natural this way.

The lead character, alone, looks a bit like a reject from the 1970s. Those big glasses and that scrawny mustache are quite a thing.

This book is black and white and blue. If you’ve read Darwyn Cooke’s “Parker” books, you’re familiar with the single color technique. That’s what Bonhomme uses here, and quite effectively. At different times, the colors add shadow, depth, focus, texture, or lighting to a panel.

The book alternates in scenes from characters standing around and talking to moments of Herve trying to make an escape, whether it’s by running through the streets with his head down or jumping in a taxi. There’s always something happening, and Bonhomme draws it well, never letting the reader get tired of endless dialogue and sitting around.

Trondheim Story

Herve is a germaphobe. Here he is with the anti-bacterial stuff after touching a train door

What I like most about Trondheim’s story is that it doesn’t focus on the How or the Why. This is a book about the reactions of people to an extreme situation. How does the world react to this unwanted stimulus? And how does that impact Herve?

Herve is portrayed as a total germaphobe from 2010 who would today be considered a good citizen who doesn’t like spreading germs. He’s a single guy, and a bit of a loser. His general appearance is decades out of date. His friends are twenty-something losers, one of which has bugged his own apartment to eavesdrop on his sister and her friend’s conversations.

Trondheim sets this all up at the beginning to show us the kind of person Herve is and what his natural predilections are. Given this situation, what unique aspects of his personality might drive him in different directions? He’s smart but socially awkward. How will he deal with the unwanted people who are about to show up in his life, en masse?

Trondheim wastes no time in getting to these questions. The story gets started quickly and then moves quickly. By page 27, Herve’s newfound power has blossomed and been identified. The chase is on.

Things, as you might expect, only get worse as the story moves along. it’s a snowball rolling downhill and getting larger as it goes, all the way to its inevitable final set piece in Paris when everything comes crashing together.

Along the way, Trondheim shows us how this impacts people in ways both large and small. I have to think that, ten years later, Trondheim would have a wealth of new inspiration for this story. He shows one restaurant owner using Herve to advertise his place. Imagine how a modern world filled with “Influencers” might impact this story?

But there’s also a crime story here. There are the attention seekers and the people who want to become actors in Herve’s drama. THere’s his worried mother and the random people who have the silliest questions for him. Trondheim covers this situation from a variety of angles.

I suppose this is a bit of a spoiler, so skip the next paragraph if you want to go into this super clean:

If you’re looking for the source of Herve’s power, this book will disappoint you. This book is not about identifying how the power came to be and where it came from and why Herve got it. There is a definite ending to this book, but it doesn’t come with those answers. It’s not the point of the story. Trondheim just waves his hands, gives you a splashy show, and then gets back to the character piece that is this book.

The Lettering. Sigh

It’s the crossbar-I issue again.

The lettering was cut and pasted from the script and no further tweaks were made. Capital “I”s at the beginnings of sentences have the crossbar, whether it’s the first person pronoun or not.

Drives me nuts every time.

I do like the lowercase “i” everywhere else, though. That’s my years of training from reading “Asterix.” It’s not a trick anyone in North American comics uses.

Recommended?

Omni-Visibilis cover by Matthieu Bonhomme

Yes, this is a fun story that’s told both clearly and with style. Bonhomme’s art is something different from what we’ve seen him do before this, but tells the story just as clearly and efficiently. It’s a bit of an absurdist story, but that’s half the fun of the whole thing. Don’t take it too seriously. Just enjoy the ride!

Buy It Now

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2 Comments

  1. Interesting. I didn’t hear of this when it first came out in 2010.I’ll definitely check it out next time I find myself in a Bruxelles bookstore, although I suspect the french version might b long out of print. I’m not sure exactly why but for some reason it kind of reminds me of Asterios Polyp that I reread recently, as I was rearranging books on some of my shelves.

    1. Asterios Polyp is on my list of books to read someday. I still haven’t. And, yeah, this one might be just old enough to be out of print. It’s a fun book, though, and worth a quick read if you come across it in your travels.